Monday, January 13, 2003

Glenn Cannon, left, plays the embittered Mr. Green, who develops an unlikely friendship with Ross Gardiner (Brian Parker), in Manoa's Valley Theatre's "Visiting Mr. Green."

‘Green’ sets out formulaic
but compelling friendship

"Visiting Mr. Green"
Continues at 7:30 p.m. Wednesdays through Saturdays and 4 p.m. Sundays through Jan. 26 at Manoa Valley Theatre. Tickets are $30. Call 988-6131.

Review by John Berger

It takes a particularly interesting role in a well-written play to lure director Glenn Cannon back to the stage as an actor. The rarity of such productions would make Manoa Valley Theatre's production of "Visiting Mr. Green" worth seeing simply for the opportunity of catching Cannon in the title role. Add Brian Kevin Parker, an "unknown" from Los Angeles making his local stage debut, and "Visiting Mr. Green" is best-bet theater in all respects.

Playwright Jeff Baron's premise, and the story that develops out of it, can be summed up as a formulaic blending of "Grace & Glorie in the City" and "Fiddler on the Roof: The Next Generation." As in "Grace & Glorie," two people of different generations and vastly different life experiences slowly discover commonalities that provide the foundation of friendship. And, while "Fiddler on the Roof" ends with Tevye and his family fleeing the pogroms of czarist Russia to seek new opportunities in foreign lands, Mr. Green is the American-born child of such Jewish immigrants. He was raised on tales of murderous pogroms in the old country and subtle anti-Jewish prejudice in America (in a case of art paralleling life, Cannon is the grandson of Jewish immigrants who arrived in New York a century ago).

Green and businessman Ross Gardiner meet under inopportune circumstances: Gardiner almost hits Green when the 86-year-old widower steps into traffic. He is sentenced to community service for speeding; to fulfill that obligation, he must visit Green once a week for six months and maybe run some errands for him.

Green, barely lucid when Gardiner arrives for his first visit, doesn't recognize the younger man or understand why he's there. Once he grasps the situation, he snaps that he doesn't need anything and doesn't want him coming around. Gardiner doesn't want to be there, either, but the court insists that the sentence be served.

As the two get to know each other, we learn that Green's wife was eight years younger; he can't understand why she died before he did. The apartment hasn't been cleaned since his wife's death, and he seems to have little interest in living. The telephone has been disconnected. He doesn't bother to check the mail. He has no friends. Gardiner becomes the reclusive old man's final connection to the outside world.

As an unanticipated friendship develops, it provides both men with the opportunity to free themselves from the psychological burdens they've been carrying. To say more would be to spoil the surprises playwright Baron obviously intends to be a part of the experience of "Visiting Mr. Green."

Cannon is perfect in a role that could easily have been written just for him. Not only does he wear it like a second skin, but he also succeeds in portraying all the facets of the character -- sometimes off-putting, sometimes likable, sometimes poignant and sometimes a bit nasty. Parker's work opposite Cannon substantiates his various mainland credits mentioned in the playbill notes.

Green is outspoken about the persecution and murder of Jews by the Russians and Nazis, but he apparently doesn't care much for goyim (non-Jews) and absolutely loathes male homosexuals -- his term for them is "feygele" -- and tells Gardiner categorically that "Jewish boys aren't feygeles."

Green goes ballistic when Gardiner informs him that male homosexuals were among other groups slated for extermination by the Nazis and that many homosexual men perished in the death camps. Gardiner finally ends the "who suffered more" argument by exclaiming, "This isn't a contest!" Touchy, perhaps, but well-rounded theater.

Director Scott Rogers succeeds in making the sometimes jarring transitions between comedy and pathos, light and dark, feel natural. The dramatic balance between Cannon and Parker is perfect throughout.

Wally White's meticulously detailed set subtly conveys the sense that this is an apartment originally decorated by a woman and now going to seed.

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